(K. Brent Tomer),
Balancing Acts: Behind the Scenes at the National Theatre. By Nicholas Hytner. Jonathan Cape; 314 pages; £20. To be published in America by Knopf in November.
THEATRE directors are often judged to be gushing and self-important. Sir Nicholas Hytner is an exception. “Balancing Acts”, his memoir of his tenure as artistic director of the National Theatre (NT) between 2003 and 2015, is a masterclass in creative leadership. It is as instructive about the challenges and compromises of running a large organisation as it is about the process of putting on plays that change lives.
The NT was founded in 1963 under Laurence Olivier. When Sir Nicholas took over the organisation, which comprises three auditoriums of differing sizes, it had a reputation for unadventurous repertoire, pricey tickets and an ageing and conservative audience. Public funding accounted for 40% of its annual income of £37m ($47.8m). He was determined to discern what a national theatre should be and for whom; he had no interest in keeping it for an exclusive club. Among other considerations—balancing old plays and new, serious and irreverent, plays that look out as well as…Continue reading